Simone Ashley Manuel (1996– )

Simon Manuel at the 16th FINA World Championships in Kazan, Russia.
Photo by Oleg Bkhambri (Voltmetro) (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Simone Ashley Manuel is an American competition swimmer specializing in sprint freestyle. At the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Manuel won gold and two silver medals: gold in the 100-meter freestyle and the 4×100-meter medley and silver in the 50-meter freestyle and the 4×100-meter freestyle relay. Manuel won gold in the 100-meter freestyle as she tied with Penny Oleksiak of Canada. She became the first African American woman to win an individual Olympic gold in swimming. Manuel holds three world records as a member of a relay team, along with being a two-time individual National Collegiate Athletic Association champion. Manuel became one of the first three African American women to place in the top three spots in the 100-yard freestyle event in any Division I NCAA Swimming Championship.

Simone Ashley Manuel was born on August 2, 1996, in Sugar Land, Texas. Manuel came from an athletic household where her parents, Marc and Sharron Manuel, were both former student athletes, as were her two older brothers, Chris and Ryan. Manuel’s swimming career began at the age of four when her mother allowed her to take swimming lessons.

Manuel competed in other sports during her childhood, and at age ten, she considered quitting swimming in favor of dance classes. Her mother, however, convinced her to continue with both activities and by age eleven, Manuel had joined the First Colony Swim Team in Houston. Under the guidance of First Colony coach Allison Beebe, Manuel developed into the top-ranked swimmer in her age group in the 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle events.

Manuel made her international debut at the 2011 FINA World Junior Championships, earning a fourth-place finish in the 100-meter freestyle. The following year, Manuel competed in the Junior Pan Pacific Swimming Championships by winning the 100-meter. She also swam at the 2012 United States Olympic Trails, where the sixteen-year-old placed 20th in the 50-meter freestyle and 17th in the 100-meter freestyle events.

Manuel competed at the 2013 U.S. National Championships, where she finished third in the 100-meter freestyle and second in the 50-meter freestyle events. She also qualified for the 2013 World Aquatics Championships in Barcelona, Spain, where she won a gold medal in the preliminary for the 4×100-meter freestyle relay.

In 2014, Manuel graduated from Fort Bend Austin High School in Sugar Land and enrolled at Stanford University. That same year, she competed in the 2014 U.S. National Championships and Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, where she won Bronze and Silver medals. In 2015, Manuel became a two-time NCAA champion, winning the 50- and 100-yard freestyle. She also competed in the 2015 World Aquatics Championships, where she placed fourth in the 4×100 medley relay, sixth in the 100-meter freestyle, and eighth in the 50-meter freestyle.

In 2016, Manuel qualified to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. She won a silver medal as part of the 4×100-meter freestyle relay along with Abbey Weitzeil, Dana Vollmer, and Katie Ledecky. When Manuel tied Penny Oleksiak of Canada for the gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle, they both set an Olympic record of 52.70.